Cortez’s Sunflower Theatre: A hub for the artistic, intellectual

by DGO Web Administrator

It’s what Cortez needed: A small performance space that isn’t a bar for touring musicians who may skip playing Durango but still want to hit the Four Corners. When you don’t want to go from Flagstaff all the way to Denver in one haul, you book a show here. The Sunflower Theatre, a cozy space that sits just below KSJD Community Radio in downtown Cortez kicked off as a venue in February 2015, bringing entertainment to the (at times) entertainment-starved and hearty folk of Montezuma County.

Building the theater was a good use of extra space, which is what KSJD had when they remodeled the old Montezuma Valley National Bank Building, built a radio station, and moved in.

“We knew we had more space than we needed for a radio station, but we weren’t sure exactly what to do with the space,” said KSJD Executive Director Jeff Pope. “About that same time, two groups – the city of Cortez through its comprehensive plan revision process, and the Montezuma Arts Council through a survey process – came to the same conclusion: Cortez needed a venue for the arts and culture.”

Since, it’s hosted dozens of shows, from local and regional bands to some heavy hitters, including bluegrass band Finnders & Youngberg, rock and hip-hop outfit The Flobots, and folkie Mollie O’Brien. Hell, the place even hosted Bob Dorough, the be-bop and cool-jazz pianist who was the creator of the “Schoolhouse Rock” series seen on Saturday morning television in the 1970s. If you’re in the dark on Dorough, I insist you YouTube the man.

In addition to concerts, the theater screens films and hosts lectures, and is a general gathering spot that further promotes art through education, for which there’s a growing audience. Back in the day, the old Hollywood Bar in neighboring Dolores would draw a packed and rowdy house for music; the Dolores River Brewing Co. does the same, as does the Sunflower. This is not only limited to concerts; the theater is the Montezuma County home to The Raven Narratives, the storytelling series that has played to a packed house in Durango at the Arts Center, and KSJD has partnered with the Cortez Library for screening documentary films with post-film discussion. It’s also growing as a community theater; The Sunflower troupe has performed three plays, as well has hosting acting and improv classes.

These are community events that break the mundane. Investment in art is an investment in community and education, a mind-expanding deposit on a community’s mental growth that adds richness and diversity to culture while enhancing, and broadening general discourse.

“What we’re finding is that the Sunflower and KSJD are playing roles as conveners of important conversations, both artistic and intellectual in our community,” said Pope.

On Friday (Feb. 10), the Sunflower Theatre will host blues vocalist Missy Andersen, with her husband, Heine Andersen, on guitar. Heine is a true student of the blues, reared on Library of Congress recordings from each decade of American blues. His guitar playing is clean and concise, a mix of straight blues rhythms and the ability to hint at funk, all sandwiched around a hot solo. Missy at the front exudes cool and confidence, a subtle yet powerful voice diving into blues, New Orleans jazz, Stax-inspired soul, gospel, and even perhaps some rock. It’s a great package, simplistic and raw, upbeat and fun.

The duo will also perform Feb. 11 at Crash Music in Aztec.

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].

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